Tag Archives: Poet Laureate

Poetry on the Riviera

Torbay Poetry Festival is always one of the highlights of the autumn, and this year was no exception, so I’m going to share a few snapshots and other recollections of the weekend.

Unfortunately I haSue Boyled to miss the first day of the festival, so was not in Torquay for the dramatisation of Report from Judenplatz by Sue Boyle. I am told that the presentation by John Miles and his company was professional and moving; and having seen their Under Milkwood production later in the weekend, I can believe it.

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The two major evening events were the festival supper, with a reading by MaurIMG_0421ice Riordan, and a reading on the Sunday evening by Roger McGough. These were, not surprisingly, very different events, but both were hugely enjoyable, providing food for thought as well as wine and, in the case of the supper, good food. The poetry was good, of course; but other less poetry-related aspects of their performances were also appreciated: for instance, I had not heard Maurice read before and was charmed by his Irish accent; and Roger who was, as ever, extremely amusing, sported a pair of bright red shoes.

IMG_0386This year’s Torbay poetry competition was judged by R V Bailey, and at the prize-giving we were able to read the short-listed poems that were posted all round the walls, and give coloured dots  to indicate where we would have awarded the prizes. The winner turned out to be Carole Bromley – a result that delighted me as I have been reading, and greatly enjoying, Carole’ poetry over the last few months.

IMG_0384The other event that featured Rosie Bailey was a launch of the large anthology entitled ‘Love and Loss’ that she and June Hall have edited over the last year.

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It is a beautiful book, containing poems by well-known poets, including the Poet Laureate, as well as many lesser-known poets, a number whom were attending the festival. I was pleased to have a couple of poems in the book myself, and therefore took part in the reading.

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I had intended to have a swim from the hotel steps, but there was never a spare moment. There were readings, talks and staged conversations that presented  Susan Taylor and Simon Williams, Katrina Naomi, William Oxley, Jeremy Young , Wendy French and others.

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There were also workshops led by Danielle Hope, Katherine Gallagher and June Hall, but I wasn’t able to get to any of those.

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As our festival weekend coincided with the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, there was  a dramatic reading of Under Milkwood on the Sunday morning, presented by John Miles and his company. As IMG_0402I know the work practically word for word, I wondered whether this would be a disappointment. On the contrary, however, it was a wonderful performance, bringing out the music, humour and charm of the work.

On the final morning we transferred to the Living Coasts centre at the other end of Torquay for a reading by Moor Poets. In a room directly beside the waves we had readings by poets who are represented in the latest Moor Poets anthology. At this event I was pleased of the opportunity to include some poems from my new collection, Notes from a Camper van (available from me for £7).
front coverOversteps poets at Torbay Moor Poets

 

With me in this photograph are the Oversteps poets, Jennie Osborne, Rose Cook and Mark Totterdell, who read at the Moor Poets event. Other Oversteps poets appearing at the festival were R V Bailey, Susan Taylor and Simon Williams.

Patricia Oxley, who organises the festival and is also the Editor of Acumen, always offers enormous encouragement, support and respect to poets at all stages of their careers; and we have good reason to be grateful to her for all she does with such grace, generosity and professionalism.

Poetic Junketings

It’s a common perception that poets spend all their time scribbling away in lonely garrets. Well, some of the time that’s true, but we also love a good social occasion; and you’ll find that groups meeting to workshop their poems, as well as festivals and readings can all be fairly uproarious affairs.

One of the highlights of the social year for poets is the annual gathering in the Ballroom of the Savile Club in London, when the winners of the National Poetry Competition and the winner of the Ted Hughes Award are both announced and invited to read to the assembled company of literary glitterati. Wine flows freely, we are constantly plied with canapés, we applaud the fortunate winners, meet up with old friends and make new ones. It all makes for a very jolly evening.

This year I was particularly struck by how far the Poetry Society has travelled in the last few years. The sticky period is now well in the past and there is a wonderfully positive and Judith Palmer 5supporting atmosphere. Much of the credit for this goes, of course, to Judith Palmer and her excellent staff. They have worked tirelessly to bring off an amazing transformation and are to be congratulated not only on the way they have put right things that were wrong, but have also launched out into new and exciting endeavours.

The Ted Hughes Award was set up by Carol Ann Duffy when she became Poet Laureate, and
Carol Ann 4generously offered to donate her annual honorarium from HM the Queen to fund the £5000 prize each year. It is a little different from other prizes, honouring both excellence and innovation in poetry. This year the prize was won by Maggie Sawkins for her multimedia live literature production, ‘Zones of Avoidance’, which explores and reflects on her daughter’s descent into drug addiction.

You can read some of Maggie’s poem on the Poetry Society website; but here’s a taste:

I’m reading ‘The Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ – Maggie Sawkins reduced 4
I want to understand what drove my daughter out in the snow

with no coat or socks, in search of a fix.
I want to understand what divinity led her

to set up camp in the derelict ‘pigeon house’
after running out of sofas to surf.

For those of us who write, our writing is often a way of trying to make sense of experience, attempting to understand ourselves, other people and the world as well as to celebrate it.

Linda France cropped 6Congratulations, too, to Linda France, who has won the 2013 National Poetry Competition for her poem ‘Bernard and Cerinthe’. With well over 12,000 entries, the winning poem is likely to be a bit special, and Linda’s poem certainly is. I’d like to insert an extract from the poem here, but it all hangs together so beautifully that it doesn’t feel right to take bits out. So buy the latest Poetry Review and read this wonderful poem in full. Congratulations should also go to the three judges, Julia Copus, Matthew Sweeney and Jane Yeh who undertook the mammoth task of reading all those thousands of poems. Obviously judging poetry competitions is always subjective, but it is impressive that these three were unanimous in their choice of first prize.

Two prizes of £5000 each on one night makes it sound as though poets get a cushily life; but the reality for the vast majority of poets is that, apart from a trickle of financial reward from publications, small competition wins and readings, love and satisfaction are the main rewards they are likely to reap for their all-absorbing commitment to writing. But on an evening like the one I’m describing here, there’s also the fun of being part of a lively and talented community and spending an evening with like-minded people for whom poetry matters immensely.